Devils Plants

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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GARLIC: when the devil's left foot touched soil outside the Garden of Eden, garlic sprang up, and his right foot gave rise to onions (Emboden). Naturally, with an offensive smell like garlic has, it must be associated with the devil, but taken by and large, it is a protector, holding the devil's works at bay. So too with SOW THISTLE. In Russia it was said that it belonged to the devil, but the Welsh belief was that the devil could do no harm to anyone wearing a leaf from the plant (Trevelyan), and one of the AngloSaxon herbaria said (in translation) - "so long as you carry it with you nothing evil will come to meet you" (Meaney). PARSLEY has to be included here, for observation of its germination time has given a number of superstitions. Its seed is one of the longest to live in the ground before starting to come up. Further, the devil is implicated - it is called Devil's Oatmeal sometimes- it goes to the devil nine times and back before it comes up (Northcote) (or some say seven (Clair)). It only comes up partially because the devil takes his tithe of it (M E S Wright). To offset this you can pour boiling water over freshly sown seed to deter the devil (Baker. 1974), or better still, sow it on Good Friday, when plants are temporarily free of the devil's power (Baker. 1980).

NETTLE, not surprisingly, was associated with the devil, as some of the local names imply. They were Devil's Leaf, and Devil's, or Naughty Man's Plaything (Macmillan), Naughty Man being quite a common euphemism for the devil. An Irish name is Devil's Apron, but that may hark back to a textile use. In the Highlands and Islands, nettle's very existence was ascribed to the devil. Tradition had it that they sprang up where Satan and his angels fell to earth on their expulsion from heaven (on 3rd May) (Swire.1964). In spite of bearing names like Archangel and its derivatives, RED DEADNETTLE also is called Bad Man's, or Black Man's Posies, (Grigson. 1955), both euphemisms for the devil. A French tale tells how the devil spun the DODDER at night to destroy the clover; clover was created by God, and dodder is the devil's counter-plant. It is hardly surprising that this parasitic plant was assigned to the devil. Local names in England and Scotland confirm the belief - Devil's Threads, or Devil's Net, for example, and even more expressively, Devil's Guts (Grigson. 1955). DEADLY NIGHTSHADE was the devil's favourite. He watches over it, but there was a way of getting the plant. The farmer was advised to loose a black hen on Walpurgis Night. The devil will chase the hen, and so be diverted from looking after his plant. Then the farmer can quickly pluck it - this is the only way to make it efficacious (Skinner).

ELDER, in spite of other associations, can be said to be one of the devil's plants, especially if one tries burning the wood. Doing that was universally forbidden in England, for "it brings the devil into the house" (Graves). Or, "they dursn't burn 'em if you gave them away - they don't want the devil down their chimbleys" (Heanley), or as they used to say in Lincolnshire, "the devil is in elder wood" (Rudkin). "People say that if you want to keep the devil out of your house, you must never burn elder wood" - that is a Wiltshire belief (Goddard). It would "draw the devil down the chimney" (Boase), or, as in Warwickshire, you would see the devil sitting on the chimney pot (Witcutt). In Needwood Forest (and in Hertfordshire) the expression used is that it would raise the devil (Burne, Jones-Baker). Sometimes the result would be that the person burning it would become bewitched (Vickery. 1985). Around Cricklade, in the north of Wiltshire, it was reckoned safe to burn, provided it was given to you!

BLACKBERRY, without actually figuring as the devil's own plant, has an association with him. A superstition found all over the southern counties of England that blackberries have a sell-by date, after which the devil is supposed to put his foot on them (Graves), or that he "has been on them", or "spat on them" (Widdowson). The devil bears this grudge against blackberries because when he was expelled from heaven (on 10 September, apparently), he landed in a bramble bush on his way to hell. That sell-by date is usually Michaelmas, so that it is unlucky to gather them after this, for in some places they used to say that October blackberries were actually poisonous. But the date is rather variable - it could be interpreted as Old Michaelmas Day (10 October), or in some places the day is given as SS Simon and Jude (28 October) (Folkard). The devil arrives earlier in Devonshire, though - 20 September is the day he spits on the blackberries (Whitlock. 1977). All this is reasonably justifiable, for after the first frosts, blackberries are often tasteless and watery, and so not worth the picking (Widdowson). When they get to this state, the devil is said to have "cast his club over them" in Derbyshire (Addy), and in Scotland "thrown his cloak over them" (Folkard). Another explanation is that the green bug that infests bramble bushes in late autumn is called Pisky in Cornwall, and it is pisky that spoils the fruit (Courtney. 1887).

SWEET BRIAR is also one of the devil's plants, actually planted by him, as is said on some parts of France, the hips being his bread. It is called Rose du diable in those areas, and Rose sorcière sometimes. (Sebillot). But more in keeping with the affection engendered by this rose is the legend that explains why their thorns point downwards. The devil was expelled from heaven, and he tried to regain his lost position by means of a ladder made of the thorns. But when the plant was only allowed to grow as a bush, he put the thorns in their present position out of spite.

STITCHWORT, a perfectly harmless plant, has been given the names Devil's Flower and Devil's Nightcap, in Somerset (Macmillan). They are the Devil's Ears, or his Eyes (Leyel. 1937; C J S Thompson. 1947), and his Nightcap (Grigson, 1955), possibly because there is a connection with snakes in folklore, thus raising doubts as to its harmlessness.

MANDRAKE was the ultimate devil's plant, constantly watched over by him. But the devil himself would appear to the owner of a mandrake to do his (the owner's) bidding, so long as the proper ceremonies were observed when the plant was pulled, and again each time it was consulted (Dyer. 1889).

Dianthus barbatus > SWEET WILLIAM

Dianthus caryophyllus > CARNATION

Dianthus plumarius > PINK

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